JOINT BASE SAN ANTONIO-RANDOLPH, Texas –
Air Education and Training Command’s Future Operations division has only been around since May 2022, but the team is already hyper-focused on one of the Air Force’s most widespread, upcoming changes, Agile Combat Employment, that will ensure the service is ready to fly, fight and win – airpower anywhere, anytime.
The Agile Combat Employment, or ACE, concept is an entirely different deployment model than what the Air Force has used to date. It prioritizes deployment to austere locations with agile teams that leave small footprints. The Future Operations division is focused on preparing Airmen and Department of Defense civilians for this new model, and on breaking down the complex concepts into digestible terms all Airmen understand.
One of the cornerstones in explaining ACE across the Air Force is the game "Kingfish ACE," which involves groups of 15-60 personnel in a hypothetical conflict in the western Pacific area of operations. On Aug. 23, 2022, three HQ AETC-based teams gathered to play the board game. Using the ACE model, each team had to understand the relationships between task, threat, capabilities and timing in order to successfully plan for and deploy Multi-Capable Airmen.
“Gamification is very powerful,” said Dion Bivens, chief of AETC’s Future Operations division’s analysis branch, while sorting chips for Kingfish ACE. “It forces participants to think and to really understand complex concepts like Agile Combat Employment and Multi-Capable Airmen.”
According to Bivens, the term “Multi-Capable Airmen” isn’t just a buzzword; it refers to Airmen with additional, specific skills that make them more expeditionary. MCA in the ACE construct is actually a very limited number of total force Airmen, and a few civilians, who have been trained and prepared for deployment in small, ACE teams.
To keep ACE teams agile, each member needs to perform multiple cross-functional tasks — for example, a deployed crew chief may need to assist loading weapons on an aircraft, and a deployed meteorologist must be proficient in aircraft loading and cargo tie-down procedures. However, not all Airmen need this additional skillset — only a limited number of career fields have been identified for advanced training and education to become true Multi-Capable Airmen, Bivens said.
“Although only a small number of career fields have been identified for MCA, every Airmen will receive a certain level of advanced training to execute ACE as a scheme and maneuver,” Bivens said. “For example, everyone who forward deploys for ACE needs to be certified in tactical combat casualty care.”
The AETC Future Operations team is responsible for creating this large umbrella of advanced training and education, called “Ready Airmen Training,” that ensures Airmen are ready to survive and operate in degraded and remote facilities without additional training. This will pivot units from managing expeditionary training in chunks to managing individual Airman requirements in support of ACE within the AFFORGEN model timeline.
“Ready Airmen Training is so exciting because this is the future,” said Jim Mueller, AETC Future Operations division chief. “MCA training represents a determined shift away from traditional, large force packages of highly specialized teams toward smaller footprint, multidisciplinary teams able to provide combat support with the resources at hand.”
As the ACE model continues to evolve, AETC’s Future Operations division will continue developing Ready Airmen Training to ensure a continuously agile, ready and lethal force.